Bus Cook vs. Tom Condon (and their clients)
History, as it is remembered in the NFL, is noted by those who win. Those who wear the championship ring – whether he be showing bling on a NFL studio show or flashing it to friends years later that were unaware he ever played in the NFL – wearing a championship ring means more to a lot of players than the millions of dollars they make to play during the course of a season.
The Vikings and Saints are both at the doorstep of making their dream a reality. The Vikings haven't been to the Big Show in 32 years. The Saints are among a handful of teams that have never been there. But both teams worked with a pair of agents to go outside their respective organizations to secure franchise quarterbacks they believed could lead their teams to the promised land. As it turned out, both were right – but only one will advance to the Super Bowl – making the battle of agents Tom Condon and Bus Cook this week's championship game matchup to watch.
Condon's job was more difficult in hindsight. His client, Drew Brees, was viewed by some as damaged goods after suffering a severe shoulder injury in the 2005 playoffs that had many questioning whether he would even be able to play in 2006. He shopped his client around, but got little in the way of response initially. In the end, it came down to two teams – the New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins.
Miami appeared to be the frontrunner in the Brees Sweepstakes because new head coach Nick Saban had bailed on the State of Louisiana by leaving LSU to join the NFL head coaching fraternity. He was looking to make a big splash and getting a franchise quarterback would go a long way to doing that. However, without warning the Vikings got involved in the Miami end of the Brees negotiations. The Vikings offered up another damaged piece of property in Daunte Culpepper. Already under contract, despite suffering a devastating knee injury, Pepp and new head coach Brad Childress were at odds and it was clear that one of them had to go. That turned out to be Culpepper. He could be had for a lesser price than Brees – Miami would give up a second-round draft pick – and be reunited with his Minnesota offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Miami made the move and traded for Culpepper. Hindsight showed us how that turned out. Pepp was a dud and Saban turned Judas and bailed on the Dolphins for big money back in the college game. But at the time, it was clear that Miami saw an injured Culpepper as less of a liability than an injured Brees. Condon had to scramble.
Going to New Orleans at the time wasn't an easy proposition. The city was still in the initial stages of trying to rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Louisiana was no longer a destination of choice for most free agents. Condon got the Saints to sign Brees to a lucrative contract, but it was one that had an out-clause that would allow the team to eat about $11 million if it didn't work out in the first year and not suffer a significant kill-shot to the team's salary cap if things didn't go well. The Saints agreed and the rest is history. Brees has dominated as a passer the last four years and 2009 was perhaps his best ever. He led the Saints to a 13-0 start, set an NFL record by completing 70.6 percent of his passes and led the NFL in passer rating at 109.6. In short, he was worth every dime they spent and, given his penchant to give back to the community – both financially and as the face of the franchise – the love affair between Brees and the Big Easy has been one that has only grown over the years.
Cook's journey to Sunday's big game took a much different route. His major client, Brett Favre, was sent packing by the Packers after he reconsidered retirement and was granted free agency in April 2009, when the Jets moved on without Favre and traded up to draft Mark Sanchez in the first round. Cook had a client and a suitor, but, to hear him talk, you would have wondered if he knew what was going on at all.
Often sounding like a Mafia lawyer, Cook denied knowledge of Favre visiting Dr. James Andrews, having surgery, having talks with the Vikings and even the existence of X-rays. He was the "Good Old Boy" agent with the "Aw, shucks" attitude that claimed to know little to nothing about the plans of his highest-profile client. He played the game masterfully, but behind the scenes was working out a compensation package that would eventually bring Brett and Brad together.
Two agents. Two players. Two very different paths to the brink of the Super Bowl. Both of them got their clients what they wanted and provided the teams that signed them with true franchise players. But only one will be able to stroll the streets of Miami in two weeks knowing that his client will have lived up to his promise of ending the Super Bowl drought for his respective franchise. They won't be wearing pads or calling plays, but their alternate journeys to the brink of the Super Bowl makes this battle between Condon and Cook an improbable and intriguing storyline.
Key matchup: QBs with the superagents
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